Worship music seeks to inspire and encourage reflection. But while there is no such thing as a best ‘gospel-approved’ sound, there are guitars that are better suited for any church’s approach to singspiration.
Today’s Christian music, like the songs of Bethel Music and Planetshakers, feature far more complex and nuanced sounds. You’ll hear light, atmospheric lines and jangly strumming alongside the celebratory, overdriven tones that are receiving more favor among youth congregations. Which means to say picking a ‘worship guitar’ isn’t as straightforward as, say, choosing one for metal.
So in our list of electric guitars we’d recommend for worship music, we’ve focused on these three qualities: they have to look the part, possess sparkling yet quiet cleans, and are versatile enough to go from lighter tones to punchier ones. And we’ve kept everything to about $1,000, too—so we unfortunately had to exclude Veritas guitars.
1. Fender Deluxe Tele Thinline
Telecasters are often the first thing that comes to mind for worship music, and for good reason: Their inoffensive looks and sterling clean tones fit the bill perfectly. And the Deluxe Tele Thinline takes the signature Tele tone, but plonks it on a semi-hollow body instead. The result’s an instrument that sounds ‘fuller’ and more ‘open’ than a vintage-spec’ed Tele.
- Semi-hollow body balances acoustic resonance and ringing sustain
- Handsome looks with a classic F-hole
- Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups for noise-free trademark Tele tones
- Pickups can be activated in series for hotter output
- Flat 12-inch fretboard radius and “C”-shaped neck
- Retails for under $1,000
While hollow electrics can be noisier and difficult to rein in, the alder-bodied Deluxe Tele Thinline manages to evade those problems. It’s largely due to the pair of Fender Vintage Noiseless stacked Alnico II single-coils, which produce the pristine ‘chime’ for which the brand is known—without the hum. Paired with the Tele-style single-coils, the guitar’s semi-hollow construction takes it slightly out of country territory and into lusher, rounder zones.
And the Deluxe has a not-so-secret weapon that makes it a competent choice for both rhythm and lead players. Those pickups can be engaged in series, via a four-way switch. You’ll get a warmer, hotter output to deploy on solos and heavier worship songs—but you can still keep the pups in parallel for a brighter and quieter jangle.
2. Reverend Guitars Double Agent OG
We’ll admit it. We thought of this one simply because of the brand’s apt name. But really, there’s plenty here that worship guitarists will find useful, especially if you serve a youth ministry where worship leaders tend to pick more gain-intensive songs. The Reverend Double Agent OG is an elegant—and affordable—work of art whose ‘rockier’ tones can still be dialed back thanks to a few smart features.
- Geared towards overdriven tones, but with options for gentler sounds
- A unique humbucker and P-90 pickup configuration
- Excellent build quality with many cool details
- That Metallic Alpine finish, with tortoiseshell pickguard, is drool-worthy
- Retails for under $900
Giving the Double Agent its moniker is its rare combination of a bridge humbucker and a neck P-90, both designed by Reverend. The humbucker offers a surprisingly sweet tone, while the old-school P-90 has a throatier bark that, when mildly overdriven, is ideal for fast-paced celebratory music. And you can combine both via a three-way switch for a unique Tele-meets-Les Paul deal.
That said, you shouldn’t expect the clean ‘spank’ of a Telecaster or the raw muscle of a dual-humbucker axe. The Double Agent is far subtler than that. Its korina body grants it a lively, resonant character, and a treble-bleed circuit ensures your tone won’t go all dark when you roll back the volume.
And then there’s the bass contour knob. Simply put, this diminutive feature lets you re-voice the pickups—you can tweak the humbucker to yield a single-coil shimmer and the P-90 a twangier bite, for instance.
Apart from the features, the Double Agent is an impeccably constructed guitar. It has many details more becoming of a boutique instrument double its price, like a roasted maple neck, pin-lock tuners, an angled neck heel and several high-quality electronic components.
3. Gretsch G5420T Electromatic
On a stylistic level, few guitars fit the look of a worship leader heading the assembly as well as a big ol’ Gretsch does. The G5420T is bold and commanding, accompanied by pure, resonant sounds that make the fully hollow instrument a worship favorite. That said, if you prefer keeping it low-key, perhaps you’d wanna skip this fella.
- Has presence in both tone and looks
- Fully hollow construction for ‘woody’ and articulate tones
- Black Top Filter’Tron humbucking neck and bridge pickups
- A legit Bigsby system
- Retails for $1,149
Guitarists turn to Gretsch for its hefty, full-bodied sound and sustain. And in the G5420T, you’ll find those trademarks front and center. The pair of Black Top Filter’Tron humbuckers combine with the hollow body for an acoustically resonant tone that has plenty of low end and a touch of sparkle. Yes, it’s a guitar that’s better for strumming and plucking open chords.
It’s probably not the best idea to load up the effects on the G5420T. A bit of reverb and a smidgen of overdrive for heavier passages are all you really need, while an original Bigsby B60 tailpiece will give those chords more than enough smooth shimmer. Cranking up the distortion yields a raucous, rockabilly roar—not the best for church but great if you’ve a blues band outside of it.
4. Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar
Built for surf, revered by indie rockers and… good for church? Jangly, bright and with the ability to quickly switch from rhythm to lead tones, the Jaguar has found a home in the worship hall, too. And if you’re on a budget, the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar is, in our opinion, the best bang-for-the-buck Jag out there today when it comes to specs. Yep, that includes Fenders.
- Very bright jangle, which can be dialed down
- Classic Jaguar rhythm/lead circuits and switching system
- Duncan Designed single-coils promise hotter output
- Short scale (24 inches) and light basswood body for smaller-sized players
- Retails for under $400
Despite its price, this isn’t a guitar for beginners. Getting the right tone for worship can prove tricky, what with the multitude of switches and the Jaguar’s quirky tendencies (like those ‘barrel’ saddles). But once you do, it’s a very usable, ‘fire-and-forget’ instrument that will work just as well as a jangle machine as it will filling in spaces with running lines.
The trick is to use the two circuits as ‘presets.’ The darker ‘rhythm’ circuit only activates the neck pickup, while the brighter ‘lead’ circuit lets you pick either the neck or bridge pup (or both) via a pair of on/off switches—both are Duncan Designed single-coils. The latter circuit also has a ‘strangle’ switch to cut the mids.
And as each circuit has its own dedicated volume and tone knobs, you can dial in two drastically different sounds and quickly flit between them with a flick of a switch. The black-and-white approach is suited for those who know how to time their moment and cut through the mix when the song calls to capture the assembly. No pedals necessary.
5. Epiphone Les Paul Standard
You can’t go wrong with a Les Paul. The guitar’s creamy tone with near-endless sustain creates a bolder and fuller presence for worship, whether you want singing solos or fat chords. Not everyone can afford a bona fide Gibson, though, but the Epiphone Les Paul Standard makes those sounds accessible to most of us.
- Classic Les Paul features, looks and tone
- A pair of Alnico Classic humbuckers with loads of warmth
- Robust mahogany body with a solid maple top
- It’s a fraction of the price of a Gibson Les Paul
Epiphone Les Paul Standards are built in China, South Korea or Indonesia. They no longer come with figured maple tops (you’ll find those on the Plustop PRO models), but have the cream neck and body binding, chrome pickup covers, and trapezoid inlays of their Gibson cousins. In other words, they are drop-dead gorgeous.
They don’t just look great, either. Epiphone Les Paul Standards come with an Alnico humbucker at the neck and Alnico Classic humbucker at the bridge. Those won’t nail you the glassy cleans of a single-coil, yet the thick, saturated tone for which Les Pauls are renowned should fill in for many other, perhaps heavier, worship numbers. Even better if you’re in a rock ’n’ roll band on the side.
The other specs on these also mimic those of a Gibson: a mahogany body and set neck, 12-inch fretboard radius, 24.75-inch scale, and Tune-o-matic bridge, among others. If you’re looking for a lot of guitar at a reasonable price, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard should top your list.
6. Line 6 Variax Standard
Line 6’s Variax Standard is a technological miracle that the contemporary church player shouldn’t ignore. With dozens of modeling effects stored within the instrument itself, this has to be the king of versatility, bar none. Or, TL;DR: This isn’t one guitar but many.
- Dozens of electric and acoustic guitar sounds based on vintage models
- Models other stringed instruments
- Has a ‘virtual’ capo and can switch tunings instantly
- Still looks like a good ol’ six-string, and can be used like one
- Retails for under $900
Honestly, going through all the Variax Standard’s features will run into a thesis-length article. But we’ll stick to the most useful one for worship: versatility. Church guitarists will understand the inconvenience of having to switch guitars mid-set or not having the right instrument for a specific song. Well, the Variax Standard solves all that.
Consider this not a guitar with digital modeling technology, but said technology housed within a Strat-shaped six-string. It’s capable of emulating dozens of renowned vintage guitars—specific models at that. Whether you want a 1959 Fender Strat, a 1961 Gibson ES-335 or the 12-string Rickenbacker popularized by George Harrison, getting the sound is as easy as twisting a knob. Acoustic guitars, banjos, ukuleles are also fair game with the Variax Standard.
And you can bid farewell to capos or hastily down-tuning on stage. The wizards at Line 6 have managed to design a ‘virtual capo’ so you can change keys and still play those open chord shapes that worship musicians love. The guitar’s also equipped with 11 alternate tunings that are accessible via a rotary dial on the body.
Sure, the Variax Standard will never please the purists, nor will it sound identical to the real deal. However, we think that’s a small pay-off for near-limitless versatility, especially if you’re a worship guitarist.
7. Epiphone Dot
The Epiphone Dot is adored for its performance in the jazz, blues, rock and indie genres. Which, frankly, are rather comparable to the Christian music your church probably does, tone-wise at least. The affordable semi-hollow covers the range of cleaner moods in more intimate songs, yet is still able to provide the energy required to stir the congregation.
- Semi-hollow body that’s acoustically resonant
- Alnico Classic humbuckers are voiced to vintage tones
- That iconic Gibson ‘ES’ look
- Retails for under $500
Simply put, the Dot is a budget Gibson ES-335. And like its pricier brother, this one has a laminated maple body and top, a mahogany neck, and a center block running within an otherwise hollow body to lower feedback—useful if you’re playing with a fair bit of dirt. Otherwise, the Dot’s sweetness and resonance will prove irresistible to clean rhythm players.
The Dot uses a pair of Epiphone Alnico Classic humbuckers. While these are a step down from the ‘singing’ Burstbuckers of the ES-335, they’re still ace for the price, providing enough punch and power to fill the hall. Here’s a guitar that will handle pretty much any worship tune you throw at it, with the added bonus of its classic good looks. And lest we all forget, the Dot clocks in at about an eighth of the price of a new 335.
8. Fender Classic Player ’50s Stratocaster
Like we’d forget to include a Strat in this list. While there are far better models than the Fender Classic Player ’50s Stratocaster, we’d stick to this in church. Because you neither need nor want a $5,000 Custom Shop axe for worship. This is a well-built Strat—it’s designed by Fender masterbuilder Dennis Galuska—that’s all about those clear, glistening tones.
- Easy to nail that beautiful, sparkling Fender tone
- Three American Vintage Strat single-coils
- Modern specs with classic aesthetics
- Retails for under $800
The Classic Player ’50s Strat and the Classic Series ’50s Strat may look identical, yet they’re completely different beasts. Both are made in Mexico, but the former isn’t as rough around the edges, construction-wise. And where the Classic Series is devoted to vintage specs, this axe takes plenty of liberty in that regard.
Both have “V”-shaped maple necks that have been ‘softened’ into a more rounded cross-section. But the Classic Player has a modern 9.5-inch fretboard radius rather than the period-correct 7.25 inches. It’s a matter of taste, but a 9.5-inch spec is far more versatile—you can bend notes without fear of fretting out and disrupting a moment of reflection for the congregation, for instance.
And then we come to the pickups. The three single-coils on the Classic Player are from Fender’s American Vintage line, having been reverse-engineered from an original 1963 Strat. They have Alnico V magnets, staggered hand-beveled pole pieces, and the middle pickup has been reverse-wound to cancel hum when it’s activated in tandem with the other pups, for a far cleaner sound.
Oh, and did we mention both the Classic Player and Classic Series Strats cost exactly the same?
9. PRS S2 Standard 24 Satin
The PRS S2 Standard 24 Satin is for the guitarist who wants one instrument to balance his worship commitments and gigging elsewhere. Its matte finish doesn’t cry for attention in the middle of a worship set, while still looking fire for when you’re shredding with your rock band. And, like most PRS models, it’s a helluva versatile six-string.
- Built in PRS’ Maryland factory
- Sleek, satin finish in three sober colors
- PRS 85/15 “S” humbuckers that are coil-split
- Retails for under $1,000
Granted, the S2 Standard 24 Satin doesn’t look like a high-end machine. It doesn’t have a glossy finish, has dull dot inlays rather than PRS’ signature birds, and there isn’t any fancy flamed maple top. None of these make it a bad guitar.
It’s a solidly constructed all-mahogany (except for a rosewood fretboard) beast that produces the clarity, articulation and ‘high-definition-ness’ for which PRS is famed. And there’s something about that satin finish that’s humble and understated, yet elegant at the same time.
With everything stock, this S2 Standard is one of the most versatile guitars out there today. The two 85/15 “S” humbuckers are lush while clean and thick when clipped, and have been coil-split to take you into glassier, single-coil territory, too. Coil-splitting allows for airier gossamer, ambient sounds common in worship music, in which electric guitars often contribute in subtler ways.
Unlike most of the SE models, the S2 Standard 24 has a Pattern Regular neck. It’s fatter but not as wide, and most players will find it to be a happy middle between Fender and Gibson necks. The guitar’s ten-inch fretboard radius also falls in-between both those brands.
The S2 Standard 24 also boasts a few high-end touches that will come in handy during a worship set. The PRS’ S2 locking tuners are great for quick restringing and keeping your strings in tune, and it comes with a molded tremolo vibrato bridge and tailpiece for better fades and control.
10. Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus
Can’t decide between a Strat or a Tele, with the occasional thought about a Les Paul? Then the Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus is for you.
The China-made guitar is brimming with contemporary features you won’t find on your average Tele, such as its unusual pickups. From energetic tunes to more pensive songs, here’s a guitar that’ll cover most if not all of the worship staples.
- Triple pickup configuration that’s unique among Teles
- Coil-split bridge humbucker takes you from aggressive to traditional
- String-through pine body with a hardtail bridge
- Retails for under $500
The first thing you’d notice about the Plus is its unique triple pickup configuration: There’s a humbucker at the bridge, a Telecaster single-coil at the neck, and a Stratocaster-style single-coil in the middle. This means it can get way more aggressive than your average Tele, which is great for uptempo numbers to rouse the flock.
And when you do have to quieten down, the Plus offers a lighter sound thanks to a toggle that transforms the coil-split humbucker into a single-coil for that traditional Tele ‘twang.’ You won’t get that precise tone, but it’s a trade-off for some versatility.
Everything else about the Plus is geared towards modern players. Like the 9.5-inch fretboard radius, to the jumbo frets, to the glossy “C”-shaped neck, to the Strat-style bridge for better stability and intonation.